Friday, August 15, 2008

Marshal Max Lee Barlow, Knott's Berry Farm

Max Lee Barlow, the "Marshal" of Knott's Berry Farm's Ghost Town for three decades, died last week. A native of South Dakota, Max served in China during WWII, and was a fireman in Los Angeles before coming to Knott's in 1978.
As the manager of Ghost Town, I'm told he wasn't always the easiest guy to work for. At the very least, he was crusty like an old trail boss and delightfully politically incorrect. But he was always very helpful and kind to me and was more than willing to share his memories and his collection of old Knott's materials.
Today's photos came from Marshal Max. The top photo shows "Aunt" Hattie Bilbray's 85th birthday party at the Calico Saloon. From left to right are Earl Balley, Chief Red Feather (a.k.a Jim Brady), Max, Fred Ridgeway, and Aunt Hattie. I believe Aunt Hattie was employed to demonstrate the spinning wheel at Knott's.
The second photo shows Calico Square in about 1952. Note the light poles for the Horse Arena in the background. Also note the sign advertising Tex Williams' TV show, to be broadcast live from the arena. (The site of the arena is now occupied by the Calico Mine Ride.)
The final inset photo shows Max in front of the Ghost Town Sheriff's Office a few years ago. When Jack Falfas was Knott's general manager, he had part of the Sheriff's Office turned into a small second office for Max. I interviewed him there and at his backstage office on several occasions.
When I asked why Knott's John Wayne Museum was so short-lived, he gave a typically informative and salty response: “The Waynes used to live near [some of the] Knotts in Newport Beach, and the families were friends. John Wayne was really involved for a while there and even helped open up the Log Ride, and they named the theatre after him. But then there was a falling out between the two families and the name of the Theatre was changed and he was told to get his crap the hell out of there.”
In discussing Sad Eye Joe (the talking prisoner in his jail cell), business-minded Max got out a calculator and figured the pay for all the employees who'd worked the microphone since the attraction opened in 1941. "I imagine we’ve spent a lot of money on Joe over the years. Almost half a million dollars." He also shared one of his brainstorms: “Sad Eye Joe has another head, which I have over in the Museum now. I want to bring it over to the Sheriff’s Office and make a little display... I'll get an old baby buggy, put the head on a doll in the buggy, and put up a sign saying he's Sad Eye Joe’s son, who’s already studying to be a horse thief.”
When I brought up the "Original Berry Stand" that was bulldozed recently, Max said, "The berry stand by the lake wasn’t original. I saw the [previous one] destroyed with my own eyes, back in ’79 or ’80. They built a new one when they moved it.”
Even at age 80, Max could be found roaming Ghost Town, on Saturday afternoons and evenings, and all day on Sundays. “I’m here until the park closes at 10:00,” he said. “Weekends are our busiest days, so I figure I should be here when our guests are.”


outsidetheberm said...

Max certainly was an original. And if his mood was good, quite helpful.

Thanks for the nice tribute. He'll be missed.

Unknown said...

I'm back here in Wahoo, Nebraska, near where Max lived and worked as a fireman at the Nebraska Ordnance Plant at nearby Mead, Nebraska. Max's widow, Darlene, who was back in Wahoo visiting friends, just told me today that Max had died last year. I lived for 30 years in Southern California and often came to visit friends, including Max and Darlene, in the Orange County area. I didn't get to Anaheim last year, though. News of his death saddened me. He was special, and really knew how to be a good friend. When Max was a fireman at the ordnance plant, I think it was in the 1950s or maybe earlier, he followed the footsteps of his father, with whom he worked at the plant for awhile until the father retired. My uncle, Audry Copperstone, worked there with Max, too. Audry, too, mourns Max's passing. The ordnance plant had closed down after WWII, but saw some activity sporadically after that. The plant's fire department remained open and staffed at the idle plant for years afterward, though, and Max and Audry continued to work together until Max took off for California. You know the story from there. Max will be missed. Bob Copperstone